LIFE SENTENCE, 1995

For Ken Saro-Wiwa, #After Elizabeth Bartlett

The judge and junta who had stirred in the small hours
before, hugged their illicit thin gifts and stayed in bed
trying not to dream of the prisoner, how he feared
more for his land and people than he did for his head,

how his punishment would not fit his crime. No Murder
had been committed by him; the chaos and confusion
he’d caused were peaceful protest’s kind. “We were toys
to them, they’re done playing now”. He knew collusion

was likely— that the country's corridors of power faced
the oil company’s and what connected them— the slightly
greying sludge water— would burst its banks, that really,
it would become a sloe–black flood. Yet, he'd rise lightly

to the hangman who would lift the noose. No crowds
would bay, no family present, no wife wailing. No ill
willed towards the hangman, no insulting reference
to his tribe; to Ken’s last few seconds they wouldn’t kill

his inner gentleman. Three chances they’d have to evade
execution, thrice the trapdoor failed, thrice the shame
of noosing his clean neck. The fourth time, they’d have
it working, pulling the lever down, calling out his name.

And waking, they would wish it had all been a dream,
and try as they might, they would not be able to explain
away what sacred thing they broke, why fishing baskets
now came up slick and empty, what brand of pain

it was, how crude and sinister, how troubled they felt
to have framed and killed him in the broad light of day.
That courtroom would shadow every door and corner
like an all-powerful omen. It would not go away.


From #Afterhours, published by Nine Arches

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